The Effects of the Proclamation

Click image to enlarge

The Effects of the Proclamation [Freed Negroes Coming into our Lines at Newbern, North Carolina]
February 21, 1863
Unknown soldier (sketch sent in by amateur)
Page 116
Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. Vol 9, No.321.
Folio A 5 .392 Vol.7
Newberry Library

This sketch, drawn by an unnamed Union soldier of the Fifty-First Massachusetts Regiment, appeared as an engraving in the February 21, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly magazine. It shows a large group of recently freed slaves marching next to the Union army at Newbern, North Carolina. The artist explained in an accompanying letter that he and his comrades had been approached by “an old slave” who arrived in the middle of “drenching rain,” asking whether or not the army would help him. The soldiers told him that he and his friends could come to their camps in Newbern. The man left and “soon the contrabands began to come in, with mule teams, oxen, and in every imaginable style.” By the morning, some 120 people had joined the regiment. “They said that it was known far and wide that the President has declared the slaves free.”

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation declared all slaves in the seceding Southern states free on January 1, 1863 and allowed blacks to enlist in the Union army. This encouraged many slaves to seek out Union camps located in the south to claim their freedom. Note that the artist depicts the African American man in the foreground carrying a long whip in the same posture as the soldiers behind him are carrying their rifles. The whip was likely used to move the yoke of oxen forward, but its presence also reminds us of the significant change that has occurred, as well as the plight of people still held in slavery.

1. Look at the people in the image. What do their postures, clothing, and places in the procession tell you about them?

2. Why would the group of men, women, and children want to travel with the Union army?  Where are they going?

Further reading:
Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, Steve F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland. Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago